For the last three years, according to fWAR, Robinson Cano tied Joey Votto as the third most valuable player in baseball behind just Miguel Cabrera(#1) and Justin Verlander(#2). So why has a section of Yankee fans begun to call for trading the second baseman? He’s clearly the best player on the team, but as the Yankees are approaching a $189 million budget in 2014/2015, the team needs to find a way to trim some money. Trading Cano with one year left on his contract would not only save the team money by preventing a major re-sign, but it would also bring in a number of top prospects in to the organization.
Most of these proposals have to do with the Cardinals, who have a very clear need at the middle infield, and a number of prospects to shed. Landing players like Oscar Tevaras, Carlos Martinez, or Trevor Rosenthal could be a great move by the Yankees, and it’s only at the expense of one player’s single season. But trading Cano this offseason would also put the team without a second baseman for 2013, and the plan would also call for them not to re-sign him in 2014.
Not only would they have to resort to Corban Joseph, who I actually really like, but the team would lose their best player. I don’t mean to call doomsday, but losing the guy who just put up a 7.8 fWAR season in 2012 means the team wouldn’t have made the playoffs. That means another play is gonna have to pull up the slack somewhere, and with the budget coming, it’s probably not coming from free agency. If we’re wishing on Oscar Tavaras to put up close to 8 wins, that’s a silly risk I want no part of.
There’s no perfect answer to how the team will recreate Cano’s production, but the best one is Cano himself. It would seem that Yankee fans have grown tired of the contracts that put Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez under team control through their late 30’s to 40’s. The problem we have with these player getting older, is that we’re now paying them for what they did year’s ago. Alex Rodriguez making close to $30 million is obviously far from what he deserves, but 5 years ago is a different story. Fans don’t want to see Cano turn into an old and overpaid Rodriguez, but it’s not the worst idea in the world.
Discussing Rodriguez’ contract is another article for another day, so let’s continue on what it would take to sign Cano. It seems that the general consensus is that the second baseman and his agent Scott Boras will demand a 6 year contract after 2013, employing Cano into his age 37/38 season. In terms of dollars, because of the similarities in production of the last three years, Joey Votto is a good comparison, setting the average annual salary at $22.5 million. This means that the Yankees will have to give Cano a 6 year $135 million contract to keep him at second base.
In 2012, Cano produced a 7.8 fWAR at the age of 29. According to work done at Colgate University by Nikolas Furnald, baseball players in the prior steroid era of 1994-2004 peaked at the age of 29.057. While I’m not implying that Cano has used performance enhancing drugs, the numbers found in this project are more indicative to how players have performed in the today’s game. Baseball in 2012 has better methods of injury treatment, playing time management, and even statistical analysis to help a player remain in the game for a longer period of time.
So according to these results, Cano is likely peaking as we speak, and if the Yankees re-sign him, they’ll be doing so during his years of regression. This is the major reason that fans dislike the idea of paying him big money into his age 37/38 season. However, the same piece finds that the average rate of regression for players in the 1994-2004 era starts at around 2.3% after their peak year and increases every year after. Here is Cano’s estimated fWAR through the 6 year contract based on an additional 2.3% regression every year.
The total 37.45 fWAR includes only the years that would be included in a 6 year re-sign. This number is much more important than the year by year fWAR, as the cumulative number is much more likely to occur when given a 6 year sample size.
I see these numbers as very optimistic, but perhaps this is coming from a Yankee fan that’s grown close to the regression of aging players. Even if these numbers are too generous, the estimate leaves a large room for failure. At 37.45 fWAR and $135 million, it means that Yankees would be spending $3.6 million per win. As I pointed out in my last post, the going price on the free agent market from 2007 through 2011 was $4.5 million per win, and this year it’s estimated at $4.23 million per win. This means if Cano puts up a clean 30 fWAR in his 6 year deal, the Yankees will break even with the standard $4.5 million. If the number goes any higher, the Yankees at least get the incentives that Cano brings as a franchise player.
The Yankees are an organization that does not rebuild. They have proven critics for almost 20 years that a team can win every season, and if they plan to keep this up, they need to keep Cano. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen the regression of aging players up close over the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean re-signing Cano will be necessarily bad. If we take a step back and look at the average decline of players, another big Cano extension might actually become a very good contract.